The Right Way to Teach Your Dog to Swim

Teaching your dog to swim is easier than you might think. These four steps help ensure success.

You’ve recently welcomed a new dog to the family. The weekend forecast calls for hot sunny weather, so you’re heading to the lake house and taking your new addition along with you. But what if you’re not sure your dog can swim? What’s the best way to teach him?

While getting him to execute the butterfly stroke might be a bit out of reach, he’ll get the doggy paddle in no time if you go about it the right way. For rookie and veteran dog parents alike, teaching a dog how to swim can be accomplished in a few short steps.

1. Start Slow

Keep in mind that some dogs hate water, while others would rather be fish because they love it so much. A lot of people think that because their dogs love bath time, it means they’ll also love to swim, but big bodies of water can be very intimidating, even for humans!

If your dog is a bit apprehensive about the water, or has never experienced it before, introduce her to it very slowly. Never force a dog into the water — this can give her a negative and scary first impression. So if she’s resisting, or showing signs of nervousness, let her be and try again later.

Tip: Be patient and let your dog proceed at her own pace

Encourage your dog to enter the water on her own. You can do this by enticing her with a toy or asking her to come to play with you near the water. These first steps are vital to a successful experience.

2. Stay Shallow

Once your dog is comfortable with being around water, begin your training in a shallow area. If you’re at a lake, stick close to the shore.

Let him get used to being in the water. Encourage him to enter the water one paw at a time so as to not overstimulate him with the new sensation. Being in water can be an overwhelming experience for a dog, so letting him know you are there to protect him helps. Show him that he’s in safe hands. Depending on the dog, he might cling to you in an attempt to get out of the water. This is normal; just keep reassuring and encouraging him in a calm voice.

Tip: If you’re in a pool, stay close to the exit and let your dog find it on his own. Repeat this until you are 100% certain he knows how to get himself out.

3. Make It Fun

As with any training experience, you want to make sure that teaching your dog to swim is a positive experience for her, so she’ll have a good feeling about it the next time she’s taken to a swimming scenario. Providing lots of praise and encouragement lets her know she’s doing something fun and good.

Tip: Swimming can be a favorite activity for some dogs — for example, Labrador retrievers and Irish water spaniels take to water like ducks.

Playing with toys and paddling and swimming along with your dog is a great way to reassure her that swimming is a fun time. Once she knows how to swim, she might enjoy participating in other aquatic leisure activities with you, such as paddle boarding, surfing, and kayaking.

4. Be Safe

As fun as it to go swimming with your dog, keep in mind that water can also be dangerous if you don’t keep safety top of mind. Depending on where you’re swimming, marine animals such as snapping turtles, water snakes, jellyfish and other creatures can pose a risk, so keep your eyes peeled.

When your dog is in or near deep water, he should be wearing a canine life vest or flotation device to protect against drowning. This is especially important if you take him boating. The life jacket should be properly fitted to your dog, so make sure you measure him carefully before making a purchase.

Some dogs won’t take to the water no matter what, but most will come to love swimming if they’re taught properly, with plenty of praise and patience. If your dog is one of the former, don’t force the issue, even if it’s disappointing to you. There are still plenty of land-based activities you can enjoy together! Dogs that aren’t built for swimming include Pugs, Bulldogs and other short-nosed breeds.

Never force a dog into the water — this can give her a negative and scary first impression.

Beware of the Dangers

Before jumping into the deep end with your dog, remember that water can be dangerous as well as fun.

  • Dogs can get exhausted from swimming, and that can become be a serious situation if they can’t make it out of the water when they need to. You should always be watching your dog while he’s swimming; drowning can happen in seconds.
  • Be aware of the water temperature; dogs can quickly succumb to hypothermia if it’s too cold.
  • Dogs can also suffer from water intoxication, which occurs when a dog swallows too much water while swimming. Water intoxication can cause a dog to vomit, become nauseous, or collapse from weakness and lack of coordination.
  • It’s also important to ensure the body of water your dog is swimming in is clean and free of pathogens such as blue-green algae and Giardia, a water-borne parasite.

It’s quite easy to teach a dog to swim if you keep it simple, remember to take it slow, make it a positive experience, and stay safe. If you follow these steps, your best friend will be a water baby in no time!


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